Thursday, October 25, 2012

Audiobook Review: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

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Title: Middlesex
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Narrator: Kristoffer Tabori
Publisher: BBC Audiobooks America
Edition: Unabridged
Duration: 21 hours, 15 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
"I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of l974. . . My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver’s license...records my first name simply as Cal." 
So begins the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City, and the race riots of l967, before they move out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan. To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Middlesex is a story about Calliope, who was raised female, but turns out to actually be a male. Told from a first person perspective, this story spans three generations of the Stephanides' family and is absolutely engaging. The prose is beautiful, the characters are a joy to get to know, and I love Cal's personality. It shines through the narration and almost gives a better picture of who Cal is than the story does. (This isn't a bad thing.) I truly enjoyed listening to this novel and liked it far more than I expected I would.

I did think that it was overly long. On the one hand, I loved getting all the background information about Cal's parents and grandparents. But I really do think it took up far too much time. One of my favorite things about this book was the depth Eugenides gave to story and characters; however, some of the things about Cal's parents and grandparents just didn't seem important to the overall story. This frustrated me, because while interesting, I still wanted to get to the point of the story: Cal.

When the time came for Cal's story, I was completely engrossed. His search for identity is dramatic and terrifying in all the ways it should be. And I LOVED the romance between him and "The Object." I thought that was a brilliant story to add to the larger narrative. Like Cal, I found myself wishing that I knew what happened to her.

I can see why this audiobook has won awards -- it is fantastic. Tabori puts life and vitality into the story and every character's dialogue. I even enjoyed the music tracks! I'm not usually the sort of person who likes music in her audiobooks, but I think that the way it was done in Middlesex was perfect. It wasn't there all the time, and it was subtly done. It helped to shift the tone between different parts of the story, which I found clever. While I don't think Middlesex would be any less good in print, the audiobook is certainly a pleasure to listen to, even considering its length.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Book Review: Attachment in the Classroom by Heather Geddes

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Title: Attachment in the Classroom
Author: Heather Geddes
Publisher: Worth Publishers
Paperback: 152 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Every day, teachers and other school staff have to deal with children who present challenging behaviour during their learning process at school. This book combines the fundamental principles of attachment theory with teacher-based case studies and practical 'how to' interventions.

Overall Rating: 3/5

Okay, now that I am actually taking classes in education, reviews of these sorts of books may start to pop in occasionally. I think it's important to review textbooks as well as novels, because how else are we going to know what's worth reading for classes?

I think this is a good book to read if you deal with children at all in your job. Geddes describes attachment theory and identifies three different attachment patterns that children can exhibit. This is really important to know, because a lot of behavioral issues stem from these patterns. Geddes gives some advice as to how to recognize the attachment patterns and then what to do when the child's pattern becomes disruptive. I would have liked to read less about the theory itself and more about how to actually deal with these children. Instead, a lot of focus is given on studies, stories, and how to recognize the patterns. Of course, some were interesting and helpful, but I do think that others could have been cut out to make room for more tips and maybe even stories about how teachers handled the students with disruptive patterns. Also, I think that sometimes Geddes stated the obvious, which was frustrating. A point was made that a child with a disruptive home life would be disruptive in school, for example. I think I wanted a little more complexity when Attachment in the Classroom only gives a brief overview.

Overall, this book is a fast read and it really is helpful for those working with students and children. It points out that creating a safe, secure environment is essential for learning and gives a few really good tips for dealing with disruptive children. For me, I think that simply reading it helps me to be aware of disruptive behavior and instead of reacting emotionally, I remember to reflect as to why the student is behaving that way. This is a must-read for teachers dealing with young children, but will be helpful for all instructors so that they can better help their students learn.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Book Review: All the King's Men by Robert Warren Penn

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Title: All the King's Men
Author: Robert Penn Warren
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hardcover: 672 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Set in the 1930s, this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel traces the rise and fall of demagogue Willie Stark, a fictional character who resembles the real-life Huey "Kingfish" Long of Louisiana. Stark begins his political career as an idealistic man of the people but soon becomes corrupted by success and caught between dreams of service and an insatiable lust for power. As relevant today as it was more than fifty years ago, All the King's Men is one of the classics of American literature.

Overall Rating: 4/5

This one was so hard for me to get through. The beginning is very slow and dry, but the further I got into the story, the more interested I got. It's a great book that deals with what people sacrifice in themselves (goodness, dignity, character, etc.) to obtain wealth or power. Jack Burden tells the intertwined story his life and the life of Willie Stark, a man who rises from a simple farmer to a governor who wants to run for president.

Like I said, the book is slow, but the plot develops nicely. It builds upon itself and I don't think that Warren added any unnecessary information. Everything built atop itself and everything in there is needed to tell the full story. Maybe it could have been less wordy, but that's a stylistic issue that I don't mind so much.

I do think that Warren relies heavily on archetypes to get his point of view across; there is no female character who is complex and surprising. Likewise, I think most of the male characters fit into a specific category. For me, that was troublesome, because I usually get to like books because of the characters -- I think that's why it was so hard for me to connect to this story at first. I don't think it's even plot-driven; instead, the themes are what drive this narrative. Warren focuses on life, the human condition, doing good versus doing bad, the consequences of ambition, and many more. (This is probably the reason for why it is studied in some high schools.)

Writing a novel driven by themes has its problems, but I did enjoy reading this. It wasn't a fast read at all, and I had to take my time with it, but I think that's a good thing. I was able to think about what Warren was trying to say through his story and he makes some valid arguments through his characters and plot. I liked seeing how essentially good men sacrificed their character in order to achieve or maintain a high status of wealth and/or power. There is inherent conflict in that, and it's something worth thinking about. How far would we go for the things that we think matter? What would we sacrifice to achieve our goals? These are the essential questions that are asked throughout the novel. Though I think this is far too heavy reading for a high school classroom, (Most students wouldn't get through page 15, I'm betting.) some passages or chapters can be used to inspire these reflective questions.

While slow, dry, and dated, I think this is a good book to read. The characters may have lost some of their relevance over time, but the story and the themes are timeless.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Book Review: Seduce the Darkness by Gena Showalter

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Title: Seduce the Darkness
Author: Gena Showalter
Publisher: Pocket Star
Series: Alien Huntress, Book 4
Paperback: 405 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
The war between otherworlders and humans changed Earth beyond recognition. It also saved Bride McKells's life. Before, the gorgeous vampire was a target for every fanatic with a stake and a crucifix. Now, she's free to roam the streets -- and desperate to find others of her kind. One man claims to have the answers she seeks. Devyn, King of the Targons, is a warrior and a womanizer, and he makes no secret of how much he wants Bride -- and how dangerous he could be to her in every way. 
An avid collector of women, Devyn easily seduces human and otherworlder alike. Until now. Not only does Bride resist him, but she leaves Devyn feeling something entirely new...a bone-deep need bordering on obsession. Her blood is the key to curing a vicious alien disease, but helping Bride uncover her origins will compel her to choose between electrifying passion and a destiny that could tear her from Devyn's side forever

Overall Rating: 4/5

I've been working on the Alien Huntress series for awhile now, and I love it for being such light reading. After reading textbooks and literary books, this was just the thing for me to sit down and relax with.

We've moved on to Devyn's story in this one, and I love it so much! It's always fun to see a playboy fall in love and became a one-woman guy. I think Showalter does a good job in keeping it realistic. He's very confused about his feelings at first and refuses to accept it, but once he does, he doesn't completely change. He's still a flirt and still obsesses over one thing. (I'm sure you know what one thing playboy obsesses over.)

And Bride is awesome! Not only for being a super-powerful vampire, but for being so self-assured and confident. I love her! I think she's going to be a great addition to the team. As always, this series builds up on itself very nicely. There's still the threat of the evil parasite-ridden queen who's planning on infecting Earth, and we get to know a little more about Macy, who was featured in Deep Kiss of Winter that also had a Kresley Cole story.

I do think that some things that had the potential to be really cool were just thrown away. I don't think the solution to Bride's eating problem was ever resolved as nicely as it should have been. It was hinted that she'd seen/met Devyn before, but then nothing further was mentioned. And then: *SPOILER ALERT* (highlight to see text).
Fiona, the one other living super-vampire person was really built up. She tortured the vampire king's brother, she's all-powerful, the vampire king hates her and wants to find her, etc. And then, she's just waiting in the shadows, slinking in a corner. What?! With the way it was talked about, I wanted so much more from her and from Bride's interaction with her. Very disappointing.

Besides that, it was a good book. It kept me entertained, and it was a fast read. For those who need a break from more serious books or who love light paranormal romance, pick this series up!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Audiobook Review: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

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Title: The Poisonwood Bible
Author: Barbara Kingsolver
Narrator: Dean Robertson
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Edition: Unabridged
Duration: 15 hours, 33 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it -- from garden seeds to Scripture -- is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family's tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5

I always appreciate books that seem real. The Poisonwood Bible definitely had a realistic feel to it. Kingsolver doesn't have problems magically disappear for her characters; the girls really struggle with living in Africa and having to deal with their half-crazy domineering father/husband. And bad things happen. In a weird way, I was glad when the first bad thing happened. It meant that Kingsolver took this story seriously. (Honestly, you can't just put characters in the Belgian Congo in the 60's and not have anything bad happen.) After that, I felt more at ease and looked forward to the conflicts that would ensue.

While I liked the story overall, my opinion changed chapter by chapter with this one. At first, I thought it had promise, then the story lost me, then I got back into it, etc. I think the problem is that it was too drawn out. Near the end, I had thought it ended twice before it actually ended. And sometimes I would just get bored of the description of everyday life or the complaints of living in Africa. Naturally, books that have a lot of details, especially ones that are set in exotic places, are fun to read and do a lot to set a visual in the reader's mind. But this was too much -- just by a little, though. Most of the details were necessary, I just think that condensing would be beneficial to the story.

My favorite character is Ada. The point of view constantly shifts between each of the female characters, and I found myself perking up when it came for Ada's narrative. Because of her quirks, and the way she played with language, her thoughts and version of events were the most interesting to me. Also, I feel like she had some of the most heartbreaking events happen to her. But all the characters are impressively complex and have their own unique traits and distinct points of view -- Kingsolver even makes Nathan Price, crazy devout missionary that he is, seem vulnerable and human. I love it!

I do think that Robertson could have differentiated between each of the characters better by using different voices, or something. My favoritism of Ada may also have been due to the fact that I knew when she picked up the story. For the others, they all melted together. Besides that, it was good narration overall. I was enjoyed the story and it was one of those audiobooks where I made up extra chores just so I could listen to it for another hour. However, considering the content of The Poisonwood Bible, the tone of the narrative, and the shifts of perception, I think print would be better for this one. The audio seemed overly long, and I'm not sure that I would have thought that had I actually read it. In any case, it would be worth it just knowing who was speaking when.

The Poisonwood Bible is definitely a book to try reading at least once. (It could be tedious for some.) If you have the patience and the interest, I think it's worth it.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Audiobook Review: Peter and the Shadow Thieves by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

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Title: Peter and the Shadow Thieves
Authors: Dave Barry, Ridley Pearson
Narrator: Jim Dale
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Series: Peter and the Starcatchers, Book 2
Edition: Unabridged
Duration: 11 hours, 1 minute
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
In this riveting and adventure-packed follow-up to the award-winning New York Times bestseller Peter and the Starcatchers, Peter leaves the relative safety of Mollusk Island - along with his trusted companion, Tinker Bell - for the dark and dangerous streets of London. On a difficult journey across the sea, he and Tink discover the mysterious and deadly Lord Ombra, who is intent on recovering the missing starstuff - celestial dust that contains unimagined powers. In London, Peter attempts to track down the indomitable Molly, hoping that together they can combat Ombra's determined forces. But London is not Mollusk Island; Peter is not the boy he used to be; and Lord Ombra - the Shadow Master - is unlike anything Peter, or the world, has ever seen.

Overall Rating: 4/5

I absolutely love the idea behind this series. Instead of retelling the old version of Peter Pan, Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson have simply imagined a background for Peter. This series goes through the days before Peter became the legendary "Peter Pan." It's great, because those who aren't familiar with the story can follow, and those who do know the story can be amused by references to what Peter will eventually become.

Aside from the history behind the characters, this is an entertaining and delightful children's novel. Peter and the Shadow Thieves is the sort of book that made me fall in love with reading. It has all the right elements of mystery, suspense, humor, and simple, good fun. There are dangerous parts that made me hold my breath (especially with Jim Dale's narration!) and completely immerse myself in the story with the characters and root for their victory

As with any fantastic children's novel, Peter and the Shadow Thieves has a terrifying bad guy. Named Lord Ombra, he can steal the shadow of anyone, and he wants the magical starstuff to make him all-powerful. I don't know about you, but I think an adventure book is only as good as the antagonist, and Lord Ombra is a definite win. He seems like a character straight out of a particularly horrifying Doctor Who episode. Our shadows are exactly the type of thing we take for granted, and for Barry and Pearson to introduce a character who is capable of stealing people's shadows -- *shudder* I admit, Lord Ombra has entered into my nightmare hall of fame.

In the end, I think I wanted a little more from the side of Captain Hook and the Lost Boys. In this novel, Peter is in England fighting Lord Ombra and the Lost Boys are left to their own devices against Captain Hook. I know that Peter is the main character, but I would have liked more of a balance between the two. Besides that, however, it's a fun, entertaining read that I recommend for all lovers of adventure and fantasy. The end is satisfying in that it answers the most crucial and biting questions, but it still leaves a lot unanswered, so that I'm eager to continue the series.

There just aren't enough words to say how amazing Jim Dale is as a narrator. He puts life and vivacity in every story he reads. The characters all have their own voices, and he matches his pace, rhythm, and tone to what's going on in the story. If you're at all interested in audiobooks, definitely go for the audiobook version of this one. It is a treat.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Book Review: Jenna Starborn by Sharon Shinn

Title: Jenna Starborn
Author: Sharon Shinn
Publisher: Ace
Paperback: 384 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
From the award-winning author of the Samaria trilogy-a classic story of a woman with the will to rise above the darkest secrets...  
A baby harvested from the gen-tanks on the planet Baldus.  
A girl scorned by the only family she has ever known.  
A woman brave enough to follow her heart-wherever in the universe it may lead her.

Overall Rating: 3/5

In Jenna Starborn, Sharon Shinn gives us a science fiction version of Jane Eyre. As always, the level of complexity of the universe she creates is astounding. Worlds with their own distinctive cultures, an awesome problem-filled caste system, and the ability for the rich to do just about anything, include commission the creation of a baby in a gen tank.

Jenna is the cast off gen tank baby of Mrs. Rentner. When doctors find out that she's being neglected at home, they send her off to technical school, where she learns how to maintain and fix nuclear generators. Fast forward some years, and she arrives at Mr. Ravenbeck's house as a technician and finds that there is more to the place and to Mr. Ravenbeck than what first meets the eye.

To be honest, I enjoyed the changes that Shinn made to the original story. While the horse-and-carriage nineteenth century thing is great, I just think that spaceships, terraformed planets, computerized houses, and robots are even cooler. I loved immersing myself into another unique Shinn world, and figuring out this new universe kept me entertained for most of the time. However, unlike the original Jane Eyre, the characters just didn't draw me in. Mr. Ravenbeck's young ward, Amelia, didn't have the vivacity of Adele, and Jenna is nowhere near as feisty as Jane. While it makes Jenna and Mr. Ravenbeck's relationship less creepy and unhealthy, it also makes it fall flat and lack heat.

I also wished that this story could have been more different; I went through the whole novel, hoping to see some sort of tweak to the story, other than the fact that Mr. Ravenbeck falls in love with  Jenna instead of the nanny character: Janet Ayreson. It was different in the sense that this story is put into a science fiction universe, but I was hoping for something more. In the end, it really is just the story of Jane Eyre with cyborgs and spaceships instead of crazy wives and horse carriages. (Okay, that sounds really cool, but you see what I'm getting at, right?) If you've read Jane Eyre, then the small sci-fi tweaks Shinn makes here and there will give you amusement, but that's about it. It really has nothing on the original. If you haven't read Jane Eyre, you probably won't love this book, to be honest. There isn't much in the way of heat and romance and the changes won't amuse you. In either case, it isn't very satisfying. A nice read, but lacking in depth.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Book Review: Diary by Chuck Palahniuk

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Title: Diary
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Publisher: Anchor
Paperback: 262 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Misty Wilmot has had it. Once a promising young artist, she’s now stuck on an island ruined by tourism, drinking too much and working as a waitress in a hotel. Her husband, a contractor, is in a coma after a suicide attempt, but that doesn’t stop his clients from threatening Misty with lawsuits over a series of vile messages they’ve found on the walls of houses he remodeled. 
Suddenly, though, Misty finds her artistic talent returning as she begins a period of compulsive painting. Inspired but confused by this burst of creativity, she soon finds herself a pawn in a larger conspiracy that threatens to cost hundreds of lives. What unfolds is a dark, hilarious story from America’s most inventive nihilist, and Palahniuk’s most impressive work to date.
Overall Rating: 4/5

This is a story written in diary format from Misty's perspective, but it's a letter to her husband, so there is  second-person narrative element to it, which I liked. Basically, this story is about Misty, a girl who fell in love with a guy and ended up getting pregnant. So, she quit art school. She quit art, period. Though her husband comes from a rich family, they fall on hard times, so she gets a job as a waitress. He gets a job remodeling houses. We come into the story after the husband has tried to kill himself and is now in a coma; Misty gets calls from her husband's clients and finds that his remodeling jobs held secret messages; and Misty's mother-in-law keeps trying to get her to paint. For some reason, this will save all the residents of the island on which they live, and island that is being overrun by tourists.

To describe Diary in two words: deliciously weird.

This was my first foray into Palahniuk's mind. I have quite a few friends who are in love with him, but I have to admit, for the better part of this novel, I just wasn't sold. The beginning is just strange. Costume jewelry seems to be a big issue, and I just didn't get. Everything was surreal; the way Misty was able to find hidden messages that led her exactly where she needed to go; the way Misty's mother-in-law, daughter, and doctor treated her; really, everything about it was simply strange.

None of it seemed to connect, and I thought I was reading a story that was strange just for the sake of being strange. However, it still intrigued me and I kept on going. I wanted to know what would happen to poor Misty. Would she start painting again? Would her husband wake up? Would her mother-in-law lay off? I had all these questions, and I wanted them answered.

Thank goodness for those questions, because Diary comes together beautifully. Don't get me wrong, it's still strange. But it's strange with a purpose. Everything is happening for a reason, and once that was made clear, I fell in love. The narrative is expertly done. I was taken on the journey with Misty, who also had no clue about what was going on. Along with her, I discovered the island inhabitants' strange beliefs and their even stranger plan for saving their livelihoods.

There were some times where I thought the story was too drawn out, but for the most part, I enjoyed it. It's horrific, terrifying, and intriguing all at the same time. For those who like their books weird, definitely pick this one up. You won't regret it.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Book Review: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, translated by Burton Raffel

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Title: The Canterbury Tales
Author: Geoffrey Chaucer
Translator: Burton Raffel
Publisher: Modern Library
Hardcover: 672 pages
Edition: Unabridged
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
It would be impossible to overstate the influence of Geoffrey Chaucer’sThe Canterbury Tales. A work with one metaphorical foot planted in the Florentine Renaissance literary tradition of Boccaccio’s Decameron and the other in works ranging from John Bunyan, Voltaire, and Mark Twain to the popular entertainments of our own time, The Canterbury Talesstands astride the cultures of Great Britain and America, and much of Europe, like a benign colossus.  
Beyond its importance as a cultural touchstone and literary work of unvarnished genius, Chaucer’s unfinished epic poem is also one of the most beloved works in the English language–and for good reason: It is lively, absorbing, perceptive, and outrageously funny–an undisputed classic that has held a special appeal for generations of readers. Chaucer has gathered twenty-nine of literature’s most indelible archetypes–from the exalted Knight to the bawdy Wife to the besotted Miller to the humble Plowman–in a vivid group portrait that captures the full spectrum of late-medieval English society and both informs and expands our discourse on the human condition. 
Presented in these pages in a new unabridged translation by the esteemed poet, translator, and scholar Burton Raffel–whose translation of Beowulf has sold more than a million copies–this Modern Library edition also features an Introduction by the well-known and widely influential medievalist and author John Miles Foley that discusses Chaucer’s work as well as to his life and times. 
Despite the brilliance of Geoffrey Chaucer’s work, the continual evolution of our language has rendered his words unfamiliar to many of us. Burton Raffel’s magnificent new translation brings Chaucer’s poetry back to life, ensuring that none of the original’s wit, wisdom, or humanity is lost to the modern reader.

Overall Rating: 4/5

This is one of the best translations of Chaucer that I've read. And, having been an English major, I've read quite a few versions of Chaucer's stories. It makes a huge difference having a poet translate, I think. Raffel does an excellent job in maintaining the poetic integrity of the work while making it readable for modern readers.

I have heard many friends complain about how boring The Canterbury Tales is. I admit, there are some stories that are impossibly long-winded. (I'm thinking of the Parson's Tale here.) However, there are a few classics in here, such as the Wife of Bath's Tale, and the Knight's Tale. No matter what, it's amazing to see how each of these stories continues to be meaningful and have relevance to audiences today. There is something in every story that we can still see in today's world. Promiscuity, cheating, marriage, friendship, religion, etc. Chaucer covers it all.

If you're going to pick and choose, however, I think the funny ones are the best. There is some merit in the others, but Chaucer is at his finest when writes humor. He's sarcastic, clever, and gloriously irreverent. And he's not above a good fart joke. I'm not sure that can be taken as a sign of a brilliant writer, but Chaucer is one of the greatest.

Overall, I think classics are classics for a reason. The status of The Canterbury Tales is rightly deserved. Chaucer is undeniably clever and funny and brings up a lot of issues that are still worth thinking about. I think everyone should sit down and read this one; just be prepared for poetry, not prose, and know that it won't be a fast read. But it will be worth it.

*I was given a free copy of this book through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers' Program in exchange for an honest review.*